Growing up in an environment of fear and domestic violence takes a toll on children.

They see and hear the abuse of a parent, and sometimes their pets, and are exposed to threats of harm in the one place they are meant to feel safe – their home.

They may feel guilty for being unable to protect their parent, blame themselves for the abuse, or even step in to try and stop the violence.

When children experience this sort of trauma, their bodies, brains and behaviour adapt in an effort to protect them.

This can cause changes in their behaviour that may be confusing and distressing for parents and caregivers.

Clare Bowyer is a family relationship educator and counsellor at Centacare and delivers the Keeping Families Safe workshop.

The workshop is free and aims to empower separated parents and carers to understand their child’s behaviour, strengthen their relationship, and support the child’s healing in the wake of domestic violence.

“When parents understand how trauma affects a child’s behaviour, they can be more empathetic and know how to respond effectively,” Clare said.

At the workshop, parents learn how trauma impacts brain development and the way a child responds to the world.

“After trauma, part of the child’s brain (the amygdala) will be on high alert looking for signs of further danger,” Clare said.

”This is exhausting for a child. We need to learn ways to help them soothe the amygdala so that they regain a sense of safety in their world. When they feel safe, they can be curious about the world and learning can occur.

”Feelings can be overwhelming – children can ‘act out’ or turn their frustrations inwards.

”Again, understanding is the key to being able to support them. We also need to be gentle with ourselves so that we can recognise if self-blame creeps in.’

Keeping Families Safe will run on Tuesday, July 4. The workshop will explore:

  • How children experience domestic violence
  • What children might learn from this experience
  • How parents can help children heal
  • Strategies to support children’s ongoing wellbeing
  • Nurturing strategies

For more information about Keeping Families Safe, phone Centacare on 8215 6700 or email your details to